How Apple's Famous iPad Traveled the World to Become a Celebrity ... Cruiser

May 7, 2010
Apple iPad Celebrity Cruise Ship Eclipse

(1:10 p.m. EDT) -- When Celebrity Cruises debuted its 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse in Southampton last month -- in the midst of the Icelandic volcano ash crisis -- it was anything but a textbook christening. Entertainers and other ship staffers were unable to reach the vessel because there were no flights into Europe, supplies and equipment were caught in multi-day delays, and VIP passengers from the U.S. and Europe had to cancel trips as they were unable to reach the U.K.

Even cruise line honchos Richard Fain and Dan Hanrahan, who boarded in Germany for the ship's handover and pre-inaugural trek to Southampton, were impacted, spending a longer-than-anticipated time onboard because flights back to the States were canceled.

Yet no journey to Eclipse was as dramatic as that of the Apple iPad -- a brand-new tech toy that was unveiled just days before the new vessel and is now a regular passenger onboard.

iMenus: Inspiration Strikes Celebrity Exec

Celebrity's dining maestro Jacques van Staden had already come up with an idea to feature the wine list for Qsine, Eclipse's brand-new dining concept, on an iPad. But Richard Fain -- visionary leader of Celebrity Cruises (and sister line Royal Caribbean) and dedicated Apple enthusiast -- had a further brainwave. Why not, he suggested, shake up the menu designs by also putting them on iPads? Diners could then use the innovative touch-screen tablets instead of paper menus to browse both wine lists and culinary choices.

No device has been as highly anticipated since the iPhone. When the iPad finally made its debut this April, customers camped out in long lines at Apple stores around the world and others hopped on long waitlists with the hopes of eventually purchasing the device. Celebrity already had managed to secure 10 tablets (enough for wine list perusing) from Apple's initial stock of 300,000 to test-drive the creative new menu concept.

Celebrity's staffers were then given the seemingly impossible task of convincing their Apple contact to sell them another 65 iPads -- in time for the imminent launch of Eclipse and at the height of the tech company's launch hysteria.

It was a big challenge and the effort scored. "Celebrity's iPads were sourced right from the assembling line in Singapore," Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity's senior vice president of hotel operations, told Cruise Critic, "and as a result, 13 Apple Stores were told they would not get their supply of iPads."

The Amazing iPad Race: Long Day's Journey to Eclipse

Apple iPad Celebrity Cruise Ship Eclipse

Wrinkle number two: Apple was only able to ship the iPads to the company's South Florida headquarters, not to the ship in Southampton. The iPads arrived safely in Miami and were packed for overnight delivery to England, which cost Celebrity just a couple of days logistically.

No problem, right? Wrong.

Enter the mighty presence of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokul and its ash cloud, which halted air traffic over much of Europe for nearly a week. The iPads were stuck in Miami.

Then Celebrity inadvertently came upon a solution to the iPad supply problem. In a much praised move, the cruise line decided to cancel a pre-inaugural cruise for VIP's and travel agents, and instead sent the ship to Bilbao to pick up ash-stranded British tourists. At that point, airports in Spain were unaffected by the ash crisis, so the units were sent on a plane to Madrid.

Alas, here comes wrinkle number three: The connecting flight to Bilbao was late, and the ship left Spain without the iPads.

When the ash crisis began to abate and the airport in Amsterdam opened (London was still shut tight), arrangements were made for the iPads to be shipped there. Celebrity rented a truck, which immediately headed to Southampton and arrived on the christening day. All the while, a Celebrity computer programmer back in Florida who'd gotten hold of an iPad was feverishly writing a program to present the Qsine wine list and menus on the new Mac tablet.

All 75 iPads arrived at 9:30 a.m., were programmed and onboard by 2:30 p.m., and were available for dinner that night at Qsine, says Lutoff-Perlo.

And what about the actual christening? It went off without a hitch.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief